Allandale family’s campaign to raise awareness of sarcoma after only son’s tragic death

Christopher Fairley
Christopher Fairley

When the Fairley family reach the summit of Ben Nevis on Saturday they will face a gamut of emotions.

There will be satisfaction at making the top, pleasure at raising money for a charity close to all their hearts, but most of all deep sadness that the person who had this challenge on their bucket list isn’t with them.

Helen Fairley and Michael Matheson, Falkirk West MSP

Helen Fairley and Michael Matheson, Falkirk West MSP

Christopher Fairley died on March 25 this year.

He was only 31 years old.

A much-loved only son, a brother, grandson, nephew, uncle and friend to many, demonstrated by the large numbers who gathered to pay their respects at Falkirk Crematorium in the week following his death.

Chris was on the threshold of a new adventure when he was diagnosed with cancer.

A maths graduate from Heriot Watt University, he had decided that he wanted to inspire other young people and was completing his probationary year as a teacher at Kirkcaldy High School when he received the devastating news of his condition.

After seven months of going back and forward to his GP, doctors finally discovered that he had an aggressive form of Ewing sarcoma in his pelvis.

A rare type of cancer that affects bones or the tissue around bones, it is mainly found in children and young people, with most cases diagnosed in people aged 10 to 20.

Ewing sarcoma can spread to other parts of the body quite quickly. The earlier it’s diagnosed, the better the chance there is of the treatment being successful.

And that’s the problem. It often isn’t.

As in Chris’s case, patients often find themselves repeatedly returning to their doctor looking for a diagnosis for their condition.

Sarcoma UK, the bone and soft tissue cancer charity, reveals that 5300 people are diagnosed with sarcoma every year – that’s 15 people of all ages every day.

Most people are diagnosed when their sarcoma is about the size of a tin of baked beans.

Of more concern, some people have to wait over 18 months before being referred for diagnosis.

And that’s what Christopher’s parents, Helen and Alastair, who live in Allandale, find hard to deal with.

Helen said: “He had been experiencing back pain off and on for a while and went to his doctor. Blood tests showed inflammation and he was given anti-inflammatories.

“But it didn’t get better, in fact it got much worse.

“Eventually he couldn’t lie down to sleep and even sitting down was difficult. He was in agony.”

But it was an incident when he was driving back to his home in Cumbernauld from Kirkcaldy that prompted his mum to insist he go back to the doctor.

“He told us that he was so tired from not sleeping at night that he fell asleep at the wheel of the car. Thankfully, he drifted onto the hard shoulder and woke up. The only damage was to his tyre, but it could have been a lot worse.”

Chris was sent by his GP for a scan but still nothing showed up.

Helen added: “He was told that he might be someone who just had to live with back pain.”

However, a rheumatology appointment was finally to be the key to his diagnosis.

This consultant suspected there was something more sinister behind the pain and sent Chris for a musculoskeletal scan. When the results came back in May 2018 he had to tell Chris and his family that he had a tumour on his pelvis and a secondary tumour on his lung.

He was immediately referred to the Beatson in Glasgow where he received chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

By Christmas last year the family believed Chris was going to beat his illness as the tumours had shrunk.

However by mid-February when he went in for his next bout of chemotherapy the doctors broke the news that it was no longer working and the tumour had grown again.

The family were pinning their hopes on Chris being accepted on a clinical trial but when he went back into hospital on March 12 they were told that sadly, he was too weak.

Two weeks later he passed away peacefully in the Beatson with all his family at his bedside.

This weekend his parents, along with sisters Lisa and Lyndsay, their partners and other family members will 
be heading up Ben Nevis to raise money for Sarcoma UK and to remember their beloved Chris.

If you haven’t heard of sarcoma then you are not alone.

According to a YouGov poll conducted in April this year, 75 per cent of people in the UK do not know or are not sure what sarcoma is.

Sadly that also includes those in the medical profession and politicians.

The Fairley family want to make more people aware of the condition and are working with charity Sarcoma UK to get the message out there in the hope that early diagnosis and treatment can help others survive.

Before he went to train as a maths teacher, Christopher Fairley worked for a number of years with the company which produces The Falkirk Herald.

He was a much loved and respected friend and colleague which is why we are happy to help the family in their campaign which we are backing.

Despite her personal heartache, mum Helen Fairley, along with husband Alastair and the rest of the family, is doing all she can to make people aware of sarcoma and what the signs of the condition are.

Earlier this month she spoke with Michael Matheson, the Falkirk West MSP, and told him her story.

He later said: “I was pleased to meet Helen and hear first-hand her very moving account of her experience of Ewing sarcoma.

“It’s incredibly brave of her to turn this personal loss into positive action to raise awareness about this devastating disease.

“I offered to help Helen’s campaign in any way I can and have no doubt that her determination to ensure more resources are devoted to research into this rare illness will benefit others in the future.”

*Sarcoma UK Support Line nurses and occupational therapist are here for every person affected by sarcoma. Talk to them or email for information and support. Phone: 0808 801 0401. Email: supportline@sarcoma.org.uk.